Categories
Environment

Earth Day Has Been a Bust

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

In retrospect, Earth Day has been a bust. It turned into an annual reminder among privileged Americans to do something about environmental degradation. It became a do-nothing tradition that had little material impact on the environment.

It would have been better to pursue social justice, elimination of poverty, or equal protection under the law, right from the beginning. All paths would lead to improving the environment regardless of the starting point.

Charles C. Mann wrote about the elitist nature of Earth Day in his book The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World:

So ineradicable was the elitist mark on conservation that for decades afterward many on the left scoffed at ecological issues as right-wing distractions. As late as 1970, the radical Students for a Democratic Society protested the first Earth Day as Wall Street flimflam meant to divert public attention from class warfare and the Vietnam War; the left-wing journalist I.F. Stone called the nationwide marches a “snow job.”

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann, page 81.

As data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii indicates, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere continue to increase. The latest reading was yesterday at 420.25 ppm. We may not have understood the significance of such a small part of Earth’s atmosphere on the first Earth Day, but we do now and the numbers continue to roll upward at what can be described as a steady pace. It is as if the environmental movement accomplished nothing.

Screen capture from The Keeling Curve website.

A climate crisis is happening in plain view. The folks at The Dark Mountain Project described it like this in their April newsletter:

The climate disaster unfolding around us is itself a convergence between the breakdown of ancient organic matter and modern industrial ambition, technology, greed and carelessness, a calamitous meeting of worlds. 

Email from The Dark Mountain Project, April 15, 2022.

However one describes the climate crisis, part of our problem in taking action to remediate it is we don’t have the intellectual skills to understand environmental degradation or what actions would be effective in reversing it. Likewise, current society has limited functioning methods to take action without a calamitous incident precipitating a need big enough to gain political consensus.

When in 1985 the scientific journal Nature revealed that over Antarctica, a hole in the ozone layer had formed, exposing humans to the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, reactions were mixed.

At the time, President Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Environmental policy hadn’t been a priority for him and his advisers, who were more focused on fighting the creep of Cold War communism or federal involvement in issues they believed the states should handle. Even the revelation of the ozone hole didn’t change things–or at least not right away. In fact… Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel was ridiculed in the press for reportedly saying in a meeting that an international treaty wasn’t necessary to address the damage and that Americans should just put on sunscreen and wear hats.

Reagan Administration Officials at First Dismissed the Ozone Hole. Here’s What Changed by Olivia B. Waxman. Time Magazine, April 10, 2019.

As we know now, the Montreal Protocol, the first-ever global treaty to reduce pollution and phase out chlorofluorocarbons, gained Reagan’s support and was agreed in 1987. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty unanimously the following year. Our current political environment has degraded to a point where such common-sense action is no longer possible.

Bill Anders’ Earthrise photograph reminds us of Earth’s suspension in the vast darkness of the universe. We are unique, and dependent on each other on this our only home. For complex reasons, we understand the risks of further environmental degradation and the warming of the atmosphere. We have been unwilling to take adequate action and Earth Day isn’t helping.

Categories
Social Commentary

It is Spring

Portable greenhouse, 2022.

On walkabout, garlic poked through the mulch. It is spring.

I assembled the portable greenhouse yesterday afternoon. The extra space and light will make a difference, another step toward planting the garden.

A big batch of vegetable soup simmered on the stove most of the day. We ate it for dinner and filled five quart jars. Three of them are to take as my spouse returns to her sister’s to finish packing.

My daily routine is disrupted by spring. That’s good. Like grass greening in the lawn, it is a sign of renewal. Without it, sustainability is elusive.

Opening statements at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee were yesterday. It was as if I wandered into a retirement home occupied by committee members. My conclusion, after listening to most of them? We need younger senators. Thankfully, in Iowa we have three suitable candidates to replace Senator Chuck Grassley during the November election.

War in Ukraine continues. The Ukrainian government refused to surrender even though most of Mariupol has been bombed to ruins. The Russian war machine will rapidly wear down, yet not before more destruction. Somehow Ukrainian farmers will get a crop in the ground this spring.

This week, António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, pointed out what most should know: we are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe. The upshot is there is time to act on climate, although not for long.

Categories
Environment

Winter Snowfall/Heat Wave

Geese walking on the lake, yet not for long.

Today’s high is forecast to be 78 degrees. Now Mother Nature is just messing with us. On the plus side, maybe the warmth will melt the 3-4 inches of snow that fell overnight. Iowa weather always has something a little different. What I found to be different is I used a different weather app to check the forecast and it was set to Washington, D.C. We don’t need a weather app to know there will be a lot of hot air over there.

Seven trays of vegetables rest on the germination table and the landing near the front door. Everything looks reasonably good. I added the task “assemble greenhouse” to my list and am ready to move onions and cruciferous vegetables outdoors. After the snow melts, I will.

There was an F3 tornado on Saturday that killed six people in central Iowa. Today, the Iowa legislature takes up House File 2299 which would make it harder for Iowa homeowners to prove damage from disasters like a derecho or tornado. There is a GoFundMe for one of the families affected by the tornado, and that appears to be the way society is going these days. We are on our own.

I like it when I can turn off the fan on the ceramic heater in front of my desk. It looks to be one of those days, that is, after I bundle up to take care of snow removal on the driveway. Soon the space heater will be moved to the greenhouse. I can’t wait.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Warm Winter Day

50 degrees in Big Grove, Feb. 15, 2022.

Two days of ambient temperatures in the 40s and 50s drew back snow cover to reveal a well-beaten deer path. Their droppings are scattered all over the ground. They hadn’t yet eaten tender young branches growing above the six-foot fence protecting two new apple trees. Maybe they won’t. Deer have become a regular animal in the yard. I don’t always look when I see them running down hill from the corner of my eye.

I walked around, picking up branches pruned from the fruit trees and placed them in a brush pile for spring burn. The ground didn’t give at all, remaining frozen. With temperatures today and tomorrow back in the single digits and teens, we are a distance from spring thaw.

I went to a grocery store. You know the kind. One that sells lots of different things. The organic kale looked great so I bought a bunch for stir fry and soup. I picked through the cauliflower for a clean head. Can’t remember if I ever bought kale in a store before. I don’t think so. Previously its been grown by me or my farmer friends. Frozen kale is used up, so a person has to do something to secure greens for winter meals.

One of the varieties of kale seeds didn’t germinate. The seeds are from the 2019 season, so it’s not a surprise. I’m putting together another order from my main seed vendor and expect it to be the final seed order for the 2022 garden. Seed catalogues are piling up next to the reading chair in the living room. Any more, I don’t spend much time looking at them as I know most of what I want.

A neighbor is planning an extended visit to relatives this summer. They offered me their garden plot, which is a nicely fenced area adjacent to our property. I’ve been thinking I could use more space. I’m considering it. I’d plant it with a uniform variety of vegetables, maybe fall crops of broccoli or cabbage, and adopt it for the season as the eighth plot. We’ll see.

It was good to get outside and exercise. It’s too early to begin turning dirt, so we wait. Parsley looks like it will over winter. It’s time to finalize plans for the garden.

Categories
Environment

Mid-winter Thaw

Deer paths in the snow.

Ambient high temperatures are forecast around 40 degrees the next couple of days. If that bears out, most of the snow should be gone. It has been a welcome time for cocooning yet this week’s weather indicates it won’t be long before working outdoors.

Onions and shallots need a trim. Broccoli seeds planted Sunday have begun to germinate. It’s good to see the older seeds are still vital. I’m thinking of setting up the greenhouse yet it’s too early.

We’ll see what Iowa’s weather does. For the moment, hope of spring is not far away. That’s enough to encourage me to get to work on everything.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Pruning Day

Deer eating buds and tender branches of a limb felled during apple tree pruning.

On the fourth day in a row of freezing and subzero weather I bundled up and pruned the pear and three apple trees. As the sprouts and branches came down, they were frozen: sap flow had ceased. That’s what we want during fruit tree pruning.

I pruned what could be reached. I used a ladder to remove a large branch that was crowding the spruce tree. With the bulky clothing I didn’t want to maneuver too much on the ladder, risking a fall. If the trees survive, there should be a crop in 2023.

Branches will remain where they fell until it thaws. In late winter or early spring, I’ll move the branches toward the brush pile, cut them up, and burn them, delivering their minerals to a garden plot. I enjoy the spring burn as much as anything I do in the garden.

A couple of hours after pruning, deer arrived to eat what they could of the fallen tender buds and first year growth. Food for them is scarce in mid winter.

I read my ninth book this month. In winter, when I’m not writing, cooking, sleeping, or shoveling snow, I’m reading. There is a list of my reading at the menu tab labeled “Read Recently.”

We have been avoiding public contact as much as possible during the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. The county Democrats decided to convert the Feb. 7 in person precinct caucuses to online because of the surge. My spouse hasn’t been out of the house in quite a while. I go to the grocery store once every week or two. I still drink fluid milk and have to re-provision from time to time at a convenience store. I frequented about half a dozen retail stores during the pandemic and organized my shopping so I spent the least possible time inside each.

Onions and shallots are doing well on the heating pad. When it’s time to plant the first spring seedlings, they come off the heat and get a trim. Last year I started cruciferous vegetables indoors on Feb. 7, so there are a couple of weeks to take care of shallots and onions.

Deer took an after dinner rest near the spruce tree. It is a popular spot for wildlife year around. Creating a habitat is one of the successes we have had. It is an accomplishment. Each time I see deer, squirrels, foxes, birds or an opossum, I consider how little wildlife there was when we built here. Hopefully the apple trees will survive long enough for birds to nest in them a few more seasons.

Deer resting on the grass near the spruce tree.
Categories
Writing

Double Dipping on Carbon-Capture

Field Corn

Governor Kim Reynolds mentioned carbon-capture in her condition of the state address during a segment on renewable energy.

I am introducing new legislation that will improve access to E15 and B20 and upgrade Iowa’s fuel infrastructure to offer higher blends. And I’m proposing that we invest in carbon-capture solutions to sustain and build on our leadership position in renewable energy.

Governor Kim Reynolds Condition of the State Address, Jan. 11, 2022.

To be clear, the governor supports carbon-capture to protect Iowa’s investments in ethanol and bio-fuels. It has nothing to do with addressing the climate crisis, and everything to do with continuing to grow corn for ethanol. We are not sure if carbon-capture even works.

“The U.S. Department of Energy invested $684 million in unsuccessful carbon capture and storage demonstration projects at coal plants under the 2009 stimulus package, a U.S. Government Accountability Office audit found,” according to Karin Rives at S&P Global. “This time, the DOE has close to $1 billion from the 2021 infrastructure law earmarked for large-scale carbon capture pilot projects, as well as $2.5 billion for carbon capture demonstrations.”

If DOE spent $684 million on carbon capture and it failed to capture carbon, why would our government increase the amount to be spent? To address the climate crisis, ethanol and bio-fuels need to go out of business. Society should develop true alternative fuels that free farmer fields to grow food crops and don’t rely on release of carbon dioxide to produce ethanol.

Fool me once on carbon capture, shame on you. Fool me a second time, shame on me.

Read all of my posts on carbon-capture at this link.

Categories
Living in Society

Christmas Eve – 2021

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

Best wishes to readers for end of year holidays.

In our house, it is Christmas Eve, although there is a string of notable days running from mid-December through January. I enjoy those Christmas seasons when I can stay home without pressure from work or other social obligations. During the coronavirus pandemic, it makes sense to avoid exposure to others, although the isolation is only partly mitigated by modern communications technology.

Leaving home can be a traumatic experience. When I left home in 1970 to attend university I didn’t understand there would be no permanent return to my home town. When our child left Iowa in 2007 there was also a lack of understanding of how the change would affect us. We do the best we can during holidays, whether child or parent. The veil of our illusions wears thin at the end of the year.

On Christmas Eve my tradition is to review this photo taken by Bill Anders during Apollo 8. It changed my life, and those of many others, to see Earth suspended in space, alone and vulnerable. Some say it sparked the environmental movement. The problem is the environmental movement and society more generally have been doing a poor job of mitigating the worse effects of the climate crisis. The coming week before New Year’s Day is projected to be the warmest December week in recorded history for North America. It is a cause for concern for us all.

For Christmas Eve dinner there will be cornbread and chili, followed by settling in to a long night. We did not decorate the house for the holiday and haven’t the last few years. If we have guests during a future holiday season I expect we will get the boxes out from under the stairway, reminisce about the decorations and how we came to have them, and put them up. Not this year, though.

It is a time for letting go the frustrations and tensions 2021 created within and among us. The year began with an attempt to overturn the results of the November 2020 U.S. presidential election. It is ending with a robust economic recovery that could only have happened with the leadership of President Biden and his administration. It was a year of the yinyang of being American.

As we prepare for a winter, delayed by a warming planet, it’s time to consider the future and actually do things to bring peace on Earth. That we will is my Christmas Eve wish.

However you celebrate year’s end, I wish you health and happiness as we prepare to enter the new year.

Categories
Writing

Swallowing the CCS Proposition

Field Corn

Two corporations plan to install Carbon Capture and Sequestration technology to collect CO2 emissions at about 40 ethanol and fertilizer plants spread across Iowa. Next, they plan to permanently bury the resulting liquefied CO2 in deep rock formations in North Dakota and Illinois. I don’t know who is swallowing this malarkey. Almost no one is.

The CO2 pipeline is planned to cross Karmen McShane’s family land in Linn County.

“It’s heartbreaking,” McShane told Gannett’s Donnelle Eller for a story. “My dad is 77. My mom needs care. And he feels powerless (to fight the pipeline).”

There is a lot of that going around.

The pace of news articles on CCS is increasing. Eller wrote about it in Monday’s Iowa City Press Citizen and followed it with another article in Tuesday’s newspaper. Erin Jordan of the Cedar Rapids Gazette has been covering CCS as well. When the regular news coverage is frequent, we should read what paid media writers have to say. That’s what I’ll be doing to see how the process unfolds over the end of year holidays. This is my seventh post on CCS.

The Iowa oligarchy of agriculture decided to do this thing, so resistance may be futile unless more people than have become engaged. If McShane is typical, the train left the station and once ground is broken for the pipeline, there will be no stopping it.

As long as Iowa focuses on ethanol, industrial agriculture using manufactured fertilizers, and monoculture row crops and livestock, the environment will get worse. It is pretty bad already if one looks at water and air quality. Implementing CCS does not address any of this and is a distraction from needed action to address Iowa’s water and air quality.

CCS is premised on a vague statement that we must decarbonize the economy. People have written books on this, and just because two companies are spending big bucks on the project, the one-off process in Iowa does not address broader concerns about reducing the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere as if it were an open sewer. As far as I can tell, the sole reason for the project is to protect agricultural oligarchs’ two children: corn ethanol production and fertilizer manufacturing.

To read the rest of my coverage of carbon capture and sequestration in Iowa, click here.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Environment

Conservatives Have a Climate Caucus

On walkabout, Dec. 18, 2021.

When I wrote my Federal Elected Officials about climate change on Oct. 18, Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks was first to respond a few days later (see below). I did not know there was a Conservative Climate Caucus. She is a member and lifted the third paragraph of her response to me from the caucus website.

As long as she supports the beliefs of the caucus, there will be trouble reconciling my views with hers. In the long run, that’s okay. It is a starting point and we need to get going. We needed to get going 50 years ago.

The Conservative Climate Caucus was founded by Republican Congressman John R. Curtis (UT-03) in June this year with the following statement of beliefs:

What We Believe

The climate is changing, and decades of a global industrial era that has brought prosperity to the world has also contributed to that change.

Private sector innovation, American resources, and R&D investment have resulted in lower emissions and affordable energy, placing the United States as the global leader in reducing emissions

Climate change is a global issue and China is the greatest immediate obstacle to reducing world emissions. Solutions should reduce global emissions and not just be “feel good” policies

Practical and exportable answers can be found in innovation embraced by the free market. Americans and the rest of the world want access to cheaper, reliable, and cleaner energy

With innovative technologies, fossil fuels can and should be a major part of the global solution

Reducing emissions is the goal, not reducing energy choices

What We Do

Educate House Republicans on climate policies and legislation consistent with conservative values

Organize co-dels and staff-dels to better understand technologies and issues related to climate

Organize Member and staff briefings on conservative climate proposals

Bring Republicans to the table to fight against radical progressive climate proposals that would hurt our economy, American workers, and national security

Introduce Republican members and staff to leaders in industry, think tanks, and more

Conservative Climate Caucus website.

When it comes to hurting our economy, American workers, and national security, engagement of the federal government to address the climate crisis is essential. As long as Iowa focuses on ethanol, industrial agriculture using manufactured fertilizers, and monoculture row crops and livestock, the environment will get worse. It is pretty bad already if one looks at water and air quality. There is not much hope for the Conservative Climate Caucus as it was introduced, yet it’s what we have. It is an open question whether Democrats are up to the challenge of retiring Miller-Meeks after her first term. She is a strong campaigner and well known in the district. We have to begin somewhere, and soon. This may be it.

Email from Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Oct. 22, 2021.